Review: YDE Young Creatives - Linbury Studio Theatre, ROH

Performance: 17 May 2013
Reviewed by Donald Hutera - Wednesday 22 May 2013

Choreographer and dancer: Daniel Hammond 'How to build a shelf' Photo: Brian Slater

I don’t mean to knock the initiatives that allow the likes of the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet or Rambert Dance Company to annually present platforms of work by company members wishing to test their choreographic wings. It’s commendable that such institutions don’t lose sight of the need to nurture ‘in-house’ talent. But, setting aside all considerations of the value of this kind of support, I have to say I had a better time at the fifth edition of Youth Dance England’s Young Creatives at the Royal Opera House than either of the recent showcases of new work by ENB’s and Rambert’s dancers.

I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Is it because the dozen, gender-equal choreographers selected for this project (out of a total of 40+ applicants) and their equally youthful casts were less burdened by the weight of expectation? Or is it simply that the work was by and large less pretentious, better thought-out (perhaps some credit for this is due the professional mentoring that was part of the whole package) and more tonally varied and engaging than that of the more experienced artists attached to big-name companies?

In any event, what follows are some responses to the dances (none lasting more than seven minutes) and dancing on show at the Linbury Studio Theatre, ROH, for one night only.

Unto the Ground by Richard Chappell (from Middlesex and currently training at the Rambert School) used Paradise Lost as the springboard for a quintet that had a sporty yet striving physical tone to it. The standout among the dancers was Jack Thomson, but all five gave strong performances embodying angels (This last bit of information was, I must admit, a surprise; I was wondering why each cast member appeared to be massaging his or her lower back, as if they shared the same ache, but could it have had something to do with a deep-rooted sprouting of wings…?!)

There Is A Grief That Can’t Be Spoken by Molly Roberts (from Worcester, and on the CAT scheme at DanceXchange) was inspired by the emotion and narrative contained in a song from Les Miserables. What I saw was a detailed sketch of a budding relationship between two atypically interesting people (sturdy Stephanie Bentley and tousle haired Rob Ferguson) each of whose school-like uniforms was adorned with what looked like a prize-winner’s floral badge. Maybe the pair didn’t always follow-through on movement marked by a certain muscular sensitivity, but they were never less than affectingly honest in their delivery of it.

Decisions by Henry Ward (from Bedfordshire, and a member of a youth group called U.P.Rising) was a solo showcase for the dancer Joseph Peacock. The latter conveyed a sense of impassioned struggle even if the source of his feelings wasn’t readily apparent. I didn’t understand the use of two piles of paper petals (one white, the other red) save as a visual gimmick (each got strewn about), nor a later materialisation of digital clouds as backdrop. What I did appreciate was the dancer’s valiant attempts to live up to a big, surging slice of music (by Max Richter). So did certain members of the audience – perhaps Peacock’s Bedfordshire fan club, who squealed like bobby-soxers at the curtain call.

Night Time by Chloe Green (from Surrey, and linked with the hip hop group X-plosion) was a female quartet set to a track of the same name by The XX. I liked the length of it – that of a pop song, which is a discipline to which Lea Anderson subscribed back in the 1980s when she launched The Cholmondeleys. (If only more of today’s choreographers practiced such creative economy!) Green herself was the most kinetically emphatic member of a cast clad identically in thigh-length nightshirts and knee-high black socks.

Corridors by James Rosental (from Wigan, and on the CAT programme at The Lowry) featured three females and, downstage right, an open-topped cardboard box that was plainly a symbolic repository of no little significance for each one. A sometimes overheated soundtrack (including Philip Glass) was met with expansive movement meant to convey the consequences of an undefined trauma. While not my favourite piece of the night, it benefited from dancing that was never less than fully committed.

How to Build a Shelf by Dan Hammond (from Cambridge, where he’s part of the group SIN Cru) was the bill’s early high spot. Hammond – a thin, highly flexible and curly-haired glasses-wearer in shirt and jeans – stayed centrestage throughout. That’s a good place for someone this bright and talented to be. Here’s a guy who isn’t afraid to initially show himself falling on his face. What he really did well was inventively break down the low-to-the-ground vocabulary of b-boying as a metaphor for any kind of effort to master or make sense of a situation. This comic solo was pure delight – and that includes the programme note (‘See for yourself!’) Based on the evidence, I look forward to future encounters with Hammond’s engagingly cheeky wit.

Transmutations by Barny Sharratt (from London, and in his seventh year of training at the Royal Ballet School) had a kind of leggy, flamboyant clarity. Inspired by the theme of evolution, this excellently-performed trio was one of the programme’s few pieces that could perhaps be said to betray an influence (Wayne McGregor) but it was none the lesser an accomplishment for all that and, also in its favour, a lot shorter than some of said master’s work.

A Thin Line Between Space and Matter by Charlotte Statham (from Shropshire and CAT Birmingham) was an abstract female trio with a physics bent. This, as I only later realised, determined the piece’s kinetic fragmentation and spatial variability. The dancers – clad in black bodysuits with a silver accent, plus noticeable eye make-up – exuded a lightly unsettled energy that suited the work.

Untitled by Marika Richmond (from London, and a student at The BRIT School) was another representation of evolution, this time for three men (with dots decorating their upper bodies) and one (inexplicably unmarked) woman. While aesthetically I preferred Sharratt’s handling of the subject matter, I couldn’t fail to grasp the deliberately more blunt, rooted intentions of Richmond and her dancers.

My Little Thing by Asmara Cammock (from London, and also from The BRIT School) was a solo for Elsie Cullen that drew on the transition between childhood and the teen-age years. I hadn’t a clue. What I saw was a woman in expressively dealing with her place in a dark, bare space. If my mind strayed during it, this is not to discredit Cullen’s dedicated performance.

Task One by Robert Bridger (from Middlesex, and at the Rambert School) was a slightly surreal, semi-improvised quintet for a cast in long and elegant black dresses. With echoes of Pina Bausch in its treatment of the female presence, this absurdly cryptic and tactile comedy about the self and others made good use of the lyrics of ‘I Will Survive’ as read aloud (in a stumbling yet determined fashion) by a young Asian woman. Altogether it offered proof yet again that audiences respond happily to humour.

Trans by Danielle Campbell (from Wolverhampton and, more specifically, Coppice Performing Arts School and the dance company Flexus) had limbre, bare-chested Aaron Baugh and Harry Ondrak-Wright confronting each other in me-and-my-shadow manner to a soundtack (By GruffMuzik) principally of spacey distortion and clicks. The peculiar symbiotic tension between the pair stemmed from Campbell’s choice of subject matter – organ transplants! Learning this only after watching the piece increased my admiration for its cleverness. Campbell’s intriguing duet built nicely into a series of grappling athletic lifts before shifting (slightly less interestingly, to my mind) into unison, the latter presumably intended as a means of demonstrating the accord possible only once a body has successfully absorbed a new living component.

YDE Young Creatives

Donald Hutera writes regularly about dance, theatre and the arts for The Times, Dance Europe, Animated and many other publications and websites.

Photos: Brian Slater

What’s On